Weekends are when most of our work gets done, since we have day jobs in addition to the farm, but this weekend felt more momentous than most.  We started out in the henhouse, putting some finishing touches in so that I can use the storage “chute” I designed to keep feed or bedding material in for easy access. We decided to try it out on the bedding first, so as not to tempt the cold winter field mice from our neighbor’s field (the feed remains in a plastic garbage can that clamps shut at the top). Here’s the finished chute, ready to use!  Jimmy even put a handle on the plexiglass door for me.  So cool!  We were able to get two big bags of compressed sawdust pellets into the little shaft on the left here, and because the front is plexiglass, you can see when it needs filled!


I am doing the “deep bedding” system in which the floor of the house is spacious, and you stir the bedding every day or so, as you add more a couple of days a week.  This allows the chicken manure to compost on site, while keeping it fresh smelling inside.  It really works!  I just toss the sawdust around and chop any larger bits into smaller bits and then mix and give a good toss of fresh pellets every now and then.  There is no foul smell at all, partly because sawdust is so absorbant, and partly because the bedding pile is so deep, and allows for natural breakdown. After six months or a year, when it gets too deep for them to walk around without hitting their heads, I will empty the whole thing out and work the collected bedding into my garden beds (ones that will not be used that year). Chicken manure is the absolute BEST for nitrogen loving plants, which most veggie garden plants are.

Next, Jimmy got the lambs ready to go out into pasture for the first time.  We have had both them and their mamas in the barn for nearly a month, with heat lamps over their separate lambing pens just in case they caught a little shiver–silly probably–lambs and sheep are warm through all kinds of cold temperature.  Before letting them out we had some difficult duties to perform. I held the little boys and Jimmy used the elastrator to put little bands in a place that will render them incapable of making any of their sisters pregnant. We will just leave it at that. Then we clipped the hooves of all the mama ewes, and let everyone outside into the eastern pasture….


And out we go….


Since we have the other sheep and the llamas in the western pasture, we closed the corral between the back and East pastures, which the chickens use as their extended worm-hunting territory, and opened the back pasture up to the chickens for the first time. Here they are entering the back pasture, with a mighty Madrona in the background….


After all of this, Jimmy finished building the feeder for the “Creep” in the barn. A creep is a little pen where the door is only big enough for a lamb to enter, and the lambs eat their own food in their own “dining room” so that they don’t have to compete with the big girls, who can be a little rough when it comes to food. (They still come into the barn every night, even when they are out in the pasture during the day.)

After watching a movie with Taj, Jimmy and I stayed up late planning our next set of projects. I’ve been studying Joel Salatin’s approach to livestock management, and the mutually beneficial possibilities for cooperation between chickens and pastured animals. With Salatin’s model, you can put more livestock on your land and get more grass for them to eat, with less flies and parasites to deal with.  You just have to split your pastures up into small, half-acre parcels, and rotate the animals through on a circuit, with chickens following close behind, to eat the fly larva and “scratch” to distribute manure intensively in the small fenced areas, which causes the grass to grow better when rain and sun come around. We set a course for building a large shelter and hay storage area in our largest pasture, the back pasture, which could be accessed by four smaller pastures where there is now just one.  And then we plotted a similar design for the western pasture. He decided that the eastern pasture would always be reserved for ewes about to lamb, and their lambs.

It is so exciting to be working creatively together on something at a time when people are learning so much about farming and livestock, and trying age-old practices that have sometimes been abandoned.  I can’t wait to get more sheep and more chickens! I’m already envisioning a mobile hen house for my gals to scoot along in.

As I write, Jimmy is clearing the back pasture of debris.  He has a huge fire down there with blackberry vines and rotted fence posts. Soon we will be doing construction down there on a shelter that we hope can be a gathering place for people as well as sheep!

Oh, another exciting thing happened this last week! The lambs had their first visitors from the city! Two sets of animal lovers in one week! My friend Heather and my brother’s family visited to see the little prancers dance about in the barn. Our friends Diane and Jeff are headed out with their kids on New Years Day as well. Come on out and see the cuties while they are small! Here’s my friend Heather with a sweet lambie…



Finding Quality Feed n’ Fodder

Well, we have a few more mouths to feed these days….


seven, so far! …and so I’m looking into ways to get them good nutrition all winter long, as our pastures are taking a rest.

Apparently you can grow a good amount of green fodder indoors by sprouting grains such as oats and barley, so I’ve been searching all over the Willamette Valley for good quality and low cost grain.

The best way to get whole grain is direct from the farmer–you don’t have to pay middle men (mill and feed store), and you get the grain as fresh as can be. Unfortunately I haven’t met any farmers that grow oats or barley, so I’ve been looking at mills and feed stores.

The priciest thing I buy is chicken feed, because it has so many ingredients and it’s so hard to get without GMO content.  Last week I was at the feed store in Dallas Oregon, and I asked for a GMO-free layer feed.  They showed me the bag of “no corn/no soy” feed that they carry for those looking out for GMO content.  Among the first few ingredients were canola and alfalfa–both huge GMO crops. If you are buying anything mixed, you have the read to label carefully. I buy my chicken feed for just under $22 for a 40lb bag from a mill in Buxton.  It is guarenteed zero GMO, and it is fresh, because he mills in on site.  Buxton is out of the way unless I’m going to the beach, but he gives me five dollars off ten bags, which pays for my gas, if I’m already going to Forest Grove.

Next up was barley, which I am sprouting for my chickens.  I’ve read that they only need to be just barely sprouted to have the optimum nutrient content for layers, so I’m just soaking them for 48 hours.  The best buy on barley that I found was at that feed store in Dallas. It was $14 for 50lbs.  However, looking at the bag, pictured below, you can see that it is from Marion Ag in St. Paul. I called Marion Ag, which is actually closer to my daily drive than Dallas is, and they had it two dollars cheaper.  Image

Similarly, I got a bag of GMO-free alfalfa from Buxton that was from a mill in McMinnville, and so now I’m going to get alfalfa from McMinnville. I do a lot of grocery shopping at Harvest Fresh in McMinnville, so that works well.

Growing the oat grass is going to be more time-intensive.  It is slow and messy work, but I’m determined to try it.  It is just like the wheat grass that juice and smoothie vendors grow–you just need a plastic tray and some water, good light, and time. We will see how that goes.

After all of this feed-store chasing, I feel like a master detective, but I am pleased with my research. I have a plan and I hope to be learning more as I go about feed and fodder and how to optimize their nutrients!

…Oops.  I just turned around to see that Kirby, our sheep-herding Yorkie (who is up for adoption) is laying on my jacket, and there is still a fresh egg in the pocket!  He’d rather eat the chicken, I think.

Merry Christmas to all, and tell me if you want a stock-chasing Yorkie in your stocking!


Our First Lamb


Last Thursday the weather was getting bitter cold. On my way out to let my new chickens out of the coop, I looked at the pastures and thought “The sheep have gotten every last blade of green grass.” Then, a ewe that doesn’t usually bleat at all started calling to me from a nearby pasture–all alone, without the others.  I got my phone out and texted Jimmy “Those gals are hungry. Even the quiet ones are getting voices.” So he said that I could give them some alfalfa.

As I went down to the barn, I heard an alien sound–an incredibly high pitched “Baa-aa-aa-aa” coming from the hill behind the barn.  I looked up and saw what I knew I would see–one of our ewes had had her little lamb up there just moments before.  That lone voiceless ewe had come to me to get help for her sister.

Mama (who was nameless until that day) was pacing, dragging her placenta behind her, and the baby lamb was following her to and fro, on little wobbly legs. I brought the alfalfa up the hill with me to get the mama to come down to the barn, but the llamas were so hungry, they had their gigantic heads in my face the whole time.  I couldn’t even climb the hill to get to the ewe and her baby.  I had to get the llamas their own buckets before they would leave me alone. When I finally reached the mama, she ate a little, but she refused to follow me down the hill to get more.  The baby lamb was shaking in the cold morning sunshine that wasn’t very warm yet.  I was pretty panicked about that. I am not the head shepherd, and had not done my homework on lambing. This was Jimmy’s area, and he was in a meeting–he couldn’t even text me instructions.

I had just started to pick the little lamb up when the sheetrock repair guy showed up. I put her in the barn and tried chasing the mama ewe in there to where baby was bleating in her baby voice, but mama wouldn’t go in. She clearly didn’t trust me. The sheetrock repairman just watched as I chased her all over the pasture.  It was hopeless, and the mama and baby were desperately calling out to each other, so I took baby back out to the cold hillside to her mom. As I got the repairman settled, I kept looking out the window to see if she was nursing yet, and she wasn’t.  I was pretty worried, but the lamb was obviously strong and determined to get some milk. She nudged at the belly of any of the ewes that came near her–she clearly knew exactly what she was supposed to do.

When I saw her leaping and running up the hill with the other sheep I thought she should be called “Dasher,” since it was getting to be Christmastime. But I didn’t even know then if we would keep her for sure.  We talked about keeping the first girls as breeders, since they aren’t related to our ram, but I wasn’t sure what the head shepherd wanted to do, so I was just focusing on not getting too attached.

Jimmy came home from work after a while and sent me on a mission to get lumber so that he could finish the lambing pens in the barn. By the time I returned, he had gotten mama and baby into the barn, but not without a lot of battle wounds! He got her corralled after he had closed the gate at the far end of the corral… but she didn’t want to let him get her when he stood in her way, so she rammed him right in the nose!  He had blood frozen all over his face when I arrived back with the lumber, but mama and baby were safe and warm in the barn, with a heat lamp over them in the stall. He was a proud shepherd… with a broken nose.

From then on I called the ewe “Mamacita” and lamb “Babycita.” The ewe had been the most shy and withdrawn of all the seven gals we brought back from Yelm. She had never made enough eye contact with me for me to name her. But Mamacita was what I naturally started calling her as it got to be late afternoon. It fits, because the name means “hot mama” in Spanish, and she seems to have been the first among the seven to have gotten the attention of the ram up there at her old ranch in Washington.

The most hilarious moment of that first day was watching the lamb get busy nursing in the stall and watching her tail wag wildly as she did. I wish I could post a video here.

…In the middle of writing that last sentence, Jimmy called from the barn and said “get down here quick!” and look what I saw….


Twins this time! A boy and a girl.

Henhouse Journey

My dad has been coming over nearly every week for the past couple of months, slowly chipping away at our hen-house between rain showers and wind storms. Most days I’ve been able to help him. He didn’t like the design at first, but I explained that my goal was to use as much of the old cabinetry and wood from our kitchen remodel as possible. The tall, slender shape of the resulting “hen-condo” came from the structures that we had to work with. I still need to paint the hen-house, but it is so nearly done, I just had to share it.

Here is a pictoral history of the project that lasted from October 1st to December 1st….

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Here is what the East side of the house looked like pre-hen-house:  So clean.  Oh my.


And here is the day that we began construction, October 11th, after laying the concrete slab foundation. These are my circa 1969 plywood cabinets, which my very aesthetically demanding husband just couldn’t bear to live with.  We used this and the other main upper bay, below.


Here’s my dad, showing off our unique design.  We found a 4×6 cheap at the Restore, so we made a nice wide door frame and beam out of it. Later on we found a very high door at the Restore as well, to fit perfectly inside the frame.  The linoleum was laid double thick by yours truly, also picked up as a scrap from the Restore for a few bucks.  Anyone who knows chickens knows that this is waaaaay too many nesting boxes–they might serve a hundred layers. The center channels are really the only ones wide enough for nesting.  The side areas will be used for ventilation shafts and feed storage, as well as a nice recessed roost or two.


I put in all of the insulation.  What I used was the plastic liner “cloth” that encased all of our new cabinets. I also used a lot of the plastic vapor barrier sheeting that I found underneath our pergo floors in the kitchen. (Yes, we did rip out the pergo flooring too, and laid tile, God bless us.) Every crack and crevice was stuffed with the flexible plastic stuff.


Here she is with her underclothes on.  Looking all bucolic from the perspective of the fence post that I was helping Jimmy to set on one beautiful evening in late October.  The under-siding was one of the very few new items that we bought for the house–along with screws, some plastic sheeting and a couple of two by fours.20131023_171435

We got the roof on on the 23rd of October, just before the big rain.  The roof is made entirely of the side-walls of my cabinets that enclosed the oven that was built into one lower bay of cabinets.  Dad designed it on his own, and it was a very proud moment, especially because it took little carpentry-work.  He saw it as divine providence.  He also worked hard to put some leftover lap siding from one of his former projects onto the face of the house that week.


Here you can see her with siding on. We used hardiboard siding picked up from the Restore for a few bucks, and some leftover brown caulk that looks like mud smeared all over the seams.  My dad loves to caulk. You can also see the fence and pea gravel that we built and laid this past week. The cabinet in the side of the house is for egg collection. The concrete board was hard to cut holes in so we went with one large hole for the upper nests.  The area under the holes is a plastic window to let in light at the entrance so that they won’t be afraid to go into the coop at dusk.  Dad cut down one of my cabinets to provide a chicken-sized door, and you can see our wonderful glass Restore door here that we boast about only costing $10. In this photo I hadn’t yet removed the fancy green curtain, which I replaced with a sheet of clear plastic the morning that the chickens arrived. The roofing material was also nearly free at the Restore.  That square thing at the peak of the side is a vent coming out of one of those narrow channels which is used as a ventilation shaft.  The white door will be our gate into the yard.  I just bought some hardware cloth to staple into it’s open window.


Here is dad working on the cabinet to cover the egg collection holes as I am putting in the last few fence posts.


And here’s the Fencemeister, stretching fence for the chicken yard.  Jimmy just finished fencing three pastures covering five acres, so he’s a little tired of stretching fence.


The chickens arrived at 11am on Saturday morning.  We were not ready.  Dad was staying over and I woke him up at nine saying we only had an hour or so.  He put together my ladder-roost as Jimmy and I finished replacing cabinet doors, putting in nest-roosts, and enclosing the ventilation shaft and bedding material storage shaft.  This is a photo of the girls in their first afternoon in the house, with nest and ladder-roost in the foreground and more nests and clear storage shaft in the background.  Their food and water are hanging under the cabinets behind them. The door window is letting in all kinds of light!  (Yes, that is plastic sheeting you see along the walls.  We are a very sanitary farm, and it is an extra deterrent to mice and drafts.)

In case you didn’t get to see the lovely baby blue color of the Americauna eggs, here they are, with the responsible lady hopping out of the nest!

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